Legal Aid Society: Anthony Wayne building residents forgotten in hotel project

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Concern is for dozens with fixed incomes who need affordable housing.

The affordable housing crisis is hitting home for several dozen residents in Hamilton.

Those who live at the Anthony Wayne Apartments ― where many are on fixed incomes or received disability benefits, and have low rents ― must leave by November.

And they don’t know where to go.

“In our region and nationwide, we’re still gripped by an affordable housing crisis and the market is only getting tighter and tighter, rents are getting more and more expensive,” said Jonathan Ford, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio.

In May, Vision Realty Group of Cincinnati and Lighthouse Hospitality Group, Inc., of St. Petersburg, Fla., announced a $16 million development project that would convert the Anthony Wayne building at 10 S. Monument St. into a boutique hotel. The companies formed Vision AWH LLC and announced last month it will be one of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton boutique properties known as The Well House.

Hamilton is providing financial assistance with tax incentives and a $3 million partially forgivable loan, and there will also be historic tax credits used to help finance the project that will have 54 rooms with a yet-to-be-named restaurant. Construction is set to begin in early 2023.

The Gap Report, which is based on 2016-2020 Census data and reflects pre-pandemic housing needs, shows a deficit of more than 254,500 rental units that are affordable and available to the state’s 443,700-plus extremely low-income households.

That equates to only 43 affordable units for every 100 households, according to the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the agencies that produced the Gap Report. In the Cincinnati metropolitan area, it’s 41 affordable units for every 100 households, and the YWCA of Hamilton said it’s 37 in Butler County.

About 20 years ago, the Anthony Wayne Apartments received federal funds to renovate the space and guarantee affordable rents for tenants. However, Ford said when the building went into foreclosure, those federal protections ended but “fortunately, the rents in the building remained fairly affordable.”

Rents range from $575 to $900 a month, with most paying around $700 to 750 a month, according to the Legal Aid Society.

The residents in the 40 occupied units must vacate by November, but an equivalent housing option ― sub-$1,000 rents with utilities included ― isn’t out there, said Lori Elliott, another Legal Aid Society attorney working with Ford to help the Anthony Wayne residents.

“I’ve heard people say they’ve got several months to find something but they’re looking for something, for a lot of them, that doesn’t exist,” she said.

Ford told the council they’re not against revitalization of the community, but this project is at the expense of some of their constituents. He said he and his colleagues want the Anthony Wayne residents to be brought to the table because, on the surface, they’re not factored in any decision concerning the project.

“We support efforts to revitalize our community that’s beneficial for all members of our community,” Ford said on Wednesday. “Respectfully, our concern for the tenants at the Anthony Wayne, they’ve been served notices they need to vacate in November. As it stands, many of them do not have transportation, they do not have access to resources, and as I mentioned, it’s very difficult to find an apartment right now, particularly one that is in the range that their current apartments are (in).”

Some residents at Wednesday’s meeting said all they were given in terms of assistance was “a piece of paper” that lists housing options around the region, and no references to resources.

City Manager Joshua Smith said Hamilton leaders need to assist the current owner of the Anthony Wayne building “to identify appropriate agencies which can assist residents who are in need of relocation assistance.”

“One of the biggest gaps we heard this evening was that several residents indicated prospective landlords need three months of rent when they sign their lease,” Smith said. “Affordable housing is an issue, and it becomes more serious by the day in Butler County. We need to encourage areas that have greenfield development opportunities to consider affordable housing that provides access to groceries, public transportation, jobs and public amenities.”

Ford said if the city can find funds for the redevelopment of the Anthony Wayne, “we would ask that perhaps some assistance be considered for these members of our community as they try to find alternative housing and maybe some other considerations could be on the table.”

John Wilson told City Council on Wednesday it’s “next to impossible” for him to find a place to live without paying three months rent up front, which he said most require. He pays $650 a month at the Anthony Wayne and after other expenses, such as medical bills and groceries, his monthly income is nearly gone.

He also said living in the apartment building has changed his life, and fears he’ll end up homeless.

“I’ve been in trouble most of my life, in and out of jail, drugs, all of that. I went to the Anthony Wayne and I don’t know what it was about the place, but it got me straightened up,” he said. “I don’t want to see these people turned out on the streets because it’s changed my life, living over there.”

Lisa Irwin told City Council she is likely one of the few exceptions who won’t have an issue relocating from the Anthony Wayne. While she admits the hotel project will benefit the city, the city has not considered the needs of the residents of the apartment.

“I live in a community with these people, I’ve come to know them, care about them ... I rub shoulders with them every day and they just want a roof over their head,” she said.

Since the announcement in May, the tenants have suffered a lot of stress and panic as “they just don’t know what they’re going to do.”

“Personally, I think the hotel is excellent for the city,” she said. “I’ll be sad to leave there, but I’ll be even sadder if any one of those people end up on the streets through no fault of their own. (The hotel is) going to be awesome for the city, but there’s a dark side to it, too.”

Dawn Anderson Thurman, the director of the domestic violence shelter for the YWCA of Hamilton, emphasized the need for affordable housing in the city, and said many of the people they serve face similar issues. The domestic violence victims they serve spend 30 to 60, maybe 90, days before they must find affordable housing.

“I am just here to advocate that we do consider everything that these individuals are saying and then some silent voices that aren’t here as well today that are experiencing very similar situations,” she said.

There are requirements that some people just can’t meet, Thurman said, like having a certain credit score, having a certain income, employment, and paying three months’ rent before moving in.

“Even in situations where we can get support from rapid rehousing within local metropolitan areas, or even if we’re able to establish an emergency housing voucher, there are very limited resources and units available,” Thurman said. “Also, we met with landlords and individuals who aren’t interested in utilizing rapid rehousing funds or emergency housing vouchers because it requires someone to come in and inspect that unit, and that would indicate to me that unit isn’t the best place.”

About the Author